Thursday, November 29, 2012

U.S. Attorney Admits BOP Served Meat Intended as Pet Food to Prisoners

According to the Justice Department, John Soules Foods of Tyler, Texas has entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Texas and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, concluding a three-year investigations that the company sold meat trimmings intended for pet food to customers for human consumption, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). the meat was apparently either adulterated or mislabeled before it was sold to a  food broker who later re-sold the product to the BOP.

Although the BOP claims that its food meets all federal standards for prisoner consumption, federal prisoners would argue otherwise. There are periodic complaints about meat served in the system causing prisoners to become ill and sometimes hospitalized, as occurred in Pennsylvania in the past year. In 2011 and 2012, some BOP facilities attempted to utilize meat trimmings packed into plastic sleeves in various dishes, although prisoners complained about the smell and taste. the quality of that meat was so poor that it could not be formed into either meat loaf or hamburgers.

This followed the 2010 incidents in some BOP prisons where a cubed form of turkey was passed off as chicken. Prisoners complained that its rubbery texture and taste made it unpalatable. It was eventually pulled from the menu when prisoners filed complaints which properly pointed out that the item was not on the BOP National Menu, and at that time, it was improper to serve it. Although prisoners are used to being served expired food and bruised fruit, poor quality meat by-products intended for use as pet food will always bring complaints. The unanswered question is: What is happening to food purchased for prisoner consumption if what is being served is of such poor and unwholesome quality?

Under the agreement, John Soules Foods will pay $392,000 to the U.S. Treasury General Fund to resolve the investigation and reimburse its costs, and in return Soules will not be subject to additional criminal, civil, or administrative action. Soules is the leading fajita processing and marketing company in the United States and employs approximately 500 people. It makes meat products for food service distributor, chain restaurants and supermarkets across the country, something to think about the next time that you go shopping.

According to the U.S. Attorney in Texas, John M. Bales, "The settlement agreement upholds the government's commitment to food safety while also recognizing that John Soules foods, Inc. is a good corporate citizen with a long record of regulatory compliance and customer satisfaction. We fully support the USDA's vigorous protection of the nation's food supply."  The company will adopt additional procedures to assure that laws such as the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act will be followed, and will undertake a thorough review of existing procedures, books and records, and policies to ensure continuing compliance.

The case was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General, Office of Investigation, and Food Safety and Inspection Service, of the USDA, as well as the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. There was no announcement as to whether the BOP will be required to overhaul its food purchasing policies to determine whether food purchased for prisoners meets minimal standards of quality to prevent a repetition of this action in the future. The U.S. attorney's office was quick to announce that, "there is no evidence that anyone who consumed any of the 'beef trimmings' product suffered any ill effect;" of course, the BOP's closed prison medical care system is not known for its alacrity in investigating prisoner complaints of food poisoning or stomach upset from ingesting expired or salvaged food products. It is highly unlikely that the from ingesting expired or salvaged food products. It is highly unlikely that the BOP will bring forth any statistics of such incidents unless compelled to do so.

See also: www. 0817

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Money from Drug Forfeitures Trips Up Cop

Usually no one cares when a drug dealer loses money through a little-known or understood forfeiture proceeding. This law, beloved by police departments nationwide, has been a lucrative source of cash to fund cop wish-lists. In some cases, however, it just provides a juicy temptation for greedy cops.

Michael Newsome, of North Chicago, IL, is one such cop. He stands accused of helping himself to $140,000 of such drug forfeiture funds. He apparently did not appreciate the inherent irony in taking the drug money. As Mexico has found out, the presence of large sums of cash does strange things to many people, including law enforcement agencies.

We should also focus on laws that permit forfeiture with only the low threshold of "probable cause" that it might be connected to the drug trade to permit its seizure. It might be time to give such laws a second look, and see if giving government and law enforcement largely unchecked and unsupervised forfeiture power squares with our democratic legal traditions.

Monday, October 29, 2012

"A Better Way. . ." Continued

My theory goes like this . Let's say a person gets a 50-month sentence. He will get roughly 8 months off, or "good time," if he commits no rule violation while in prison. If he successfully completed the Residential Grug Treatment Plan, he can earn up to another 12 months off, so goes from 42 to 30 months. Now, if he is rule-follower, he can get another six months of halfway house, so he is down to 24 months in prison.

Clearly, these incentives may make someone think twice before he breaks a rule in prison, and if he re-offends when he gets out, he loses all of these sentence "credits." Talk about motivation!

Let's take this one step further. What about community college prison outreach, certificate programs in green energy jobs, carpentry, plumbing, HVAC, and the like being a way to earn sentence credits? It gives the non-drug using prisoner an incentive to improve their minds, learn a skill, and do something positive with their time.

Let's all to that one month credits for other courses, such as typing on keyboards, computer usage, and other self-improvement programs. Let's identify faith-based organizations who can mentor prisoners on simple interview techniques, and other job skills that they can put to use after they are released.

If the prisoner re-offends, he loses all of the above benefits, on top of any new sentence he obtains. How's that for motivation?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

There's Got To Be A Better Way . . .

What is the purpose of putting people in jail? In the case of violent crimes, clearly, it's public safety. It seems to make sense to punish people who cause physical pain and injury to others. However, except in the most extreme cases, even violent offenders have "out dates," when they are released back into society.

What becomes of them, and the non-violent offenders when they are released? Are they ready? Who is held responsible if they are not?

The American correctional system holds the released criminals responsible for their own behavior, and if he "messes up" and re-offends, "Oh, well!" In other words, we expect people who were guilty of misbehavior before, confine them with other criminals, give them no incentive to improve themselves, and act surprised when they commit new crimes after release.

I have some suggestions, none of which are particularly original, but one that has a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement. It make the prisoner responsible for his own behavior, and is a correctional variant of the old "broken window" school of law enforcement. The theory on that is if you restrain and/or punish simple crimes, you avoid the natural progression to bigger, more serious crimes.

More to come. . .

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Halfway Houses: Key to Prisoner Reintegration

Build more prisons, says the BOP. Overcrowding is at an all-time high, stressing prisoners,staff, and aging facilities. Thousands of convicted felons col their heels in county jails, in deplorable facilities meant for short- term stays. The solution is more money, right?

Not so fast. What about the high recidivism rate, 70% or less, depending upon the level of security the prisoner is released from? Sorry, not much money for that. It is the law enforcement equivalent of telling an automobile owner that he should buy a new car instead of trying to maintain and repair the old one. Why spend money educating a prisoner when he is coming back anyway?

That's where a well-functioning halfway house comes in. It has resident assistants, employment counselors, and drug and alcohol specialists who can make the difference between a successful re-entry back into society.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bureau of Prisons Budget Grows Despite Budget Crisis

Unemployment tops 8%, the defense budget is shrinking, and government agencies across the country are reducing their employment, but the BOP and the Justice Department apparently inhabit a parallel universe where none of this matters. The 2013 Federal Budget provides for a 4.5 % increase over last year, which includes funding to activate two prisons, one in Aliceville, AL, and one in Berlin, NH. Total funding for the BOP will top $8.6 billion for this year.

Additionally, the BOP is planning to build two new prisons, one in Yazoo City, MS, and one in Hazelton, WV, which will provide additional employment for an increasing staff population. Funding is also provided for new contract beds in non-BOP facilities.

A total of $13 million was set aside to attempt to fully fund the Residential Drug Treatment Plan, RDAP, "to support...Second Chance Act objectives" and reduce sentences for eligible prisoners for the full twelve months that Congress intended.

Despite this increased funding, complaints continue to rise about BOP overcrowding facilities by double and triple bunking, a clear violation of their own rules and policies, explained by their categorization of this practice as "temporary". Temporary in this case is whatever the BOP says it is.

Clearly, it is time for Congress to more closely examine the whole system of prosecution, sentencing, and incarceration to find alternatives to the rapidly expanding federal prison population. The U.S. continues to lock people up at a rate far exceeding that of other countries which the U.S. government has labeled repressive, including Iran, China, and Russia.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Major Political Parties' Drug Policies Still the Same: Archaic

Despite a veritable avalanche of articles, books, and studies that show that the "War on Drugs" has been a failure, neither political party has addressed the issue in a presidential election year. To controversy-averse politicians, this is nothing new; witness the reluctance until recently of Republicans or Democrats to discuss Medicaid or Medicare, despite numerous studies showing that unless both systems are changed they will bankrupt the federal government.

The passage of the Harrison Act in 1914, that criminalized opium, has launched a hundred years' war that has only enriched drug criminals, distracted law enforcement from more serious, violent crime, and created outstanding investment opportunities for politically-connected investors in private prisons and prison suppliers.

A more humane policy, more consistent with conservative political principles that espouse limited government, would emphasize treatment over incarceration, and provide tax breaks and jobs for those willing to do the hard work of drug and alcohol treatment with the threat of more serious punishment for those that fail to take advantage of the more helpful and humane policies.

The other solution would be to make block grants to the states themselves to encourage them to come up with their own programs on a local level, using the vast network of charitable organizations such as the United Way and the Salvation Army, who are already doing outstanding work in the area, and limit federal intervention to major international traffickers, and limiting federal prosecutors powers to "pick-up" (take over) state drug prosecutions already in progress. Such developments would go a long way to helping communities gain control of their own crime problems at what would be a significantly more economical solution than currently exists.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bureau of Prisons Ignores Legal Tools to Keep Up Numbers, Waste Money

A recent report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) of the federal government, a non-partisan invetigatory body that seeks to highlight waste in the U.S. budget, shows that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) fails to take advantage of numerous methods by which it can legally lower its prisoner population and save the tax payers money. Their inability or unwillingness to do so shows that they are more interested in keeping their number of prisoners high than in releasing them back into the community and their families.

The BOP    was found to have two principal means by which it could shave months or years off sentences, based upon Congressional legislation: "good time", GED completion, and completion of the nine-month Residential Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program (RDAP).

"Good Time" refers to the number of days a year that prisoners can earn for good hehavior while incarcerated, which is set a 54 days a year. However, by their own method of "government arithmetic" this time actually amounts to approximately 47 days a year. Amazingly, this computational sleight-of-hand was upheld by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. Legislation is now pending in Congress to make 54 days mean 54 days.

GED studies, GED completion, or a high school diploma are still necessary for a prisoner to claim even the reduced amount of good time provided by the BOP. RDAP promises up to one year off for completion of its program, but the nationwide average is more like 8 or 9 months, according to the study.

The BOP fails to properly take advantage of the "Second Chance Act", which provides for up to one year of halfway house to ease prisoner reintegration into their community. The nationwide average of halfway house given is also around three months. The BOP blames a lack of halfway houses, but also admits that it cannot properly account for funds collected by these institutions.

In short, every action of the BOP frustrates taxpayer intent and serves to cost American taxpayers millions of dollars per year without contributing in any fashion to public safety or prisoner reentry programs that could reduce recidivism.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ralph Nader Urges Obama and Romney to Discuss "Prison-Industrial Complex"

Well-known consumer advocate and one-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader has called for the Republican and Democratic parties to discuss the true costs of incarceration, calling for a campaign of public awareness to expose the "Prison-Industrial Complex."

Barron's financial weekly is bearish on the stock of Corrections Corporation of America, (CCA), pointing out that CCA has cost advantages over the public-prison sector, paying lower non-union wages and more automated technology. According to Barron's, CCA is counting on "the old standby of recidivism to keep prison head counts growing, filling its empty beds." for the communities where prisons are located, prisons are important job engines.

Thanks to the War on Drugs, there is a steady supply of non-violent drug offenders, estimated to be over half a million people nationwide, or 25% of confined prisoners.

The Harvard Business Review in its January-February 2012 issue has called for a solution to a problem that costs American taxpayers $68 billion a year: reducing recidivism.

The article by Eric Schmidt outlines how: government would float "social impact bonds" to investors, generally foundations, "who'd bet on the ability of (private) companies, community groups, and other qualified parties to provide services like education for the many inmates who are high school dropouts. The money raised would fund social programs...if, after...five years...the program had a significant positive impact...investors would get their money back with a premium.

Perhaps, with a little publicity from the likes of Nader and business experts such as Mr. Schmidt, American society would benefit, even if CCA shareholders did not.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Government Accountablity Office Study of BOP Released

The Government Accountability Office, or GAO, the non-partisan investigative arm of the federal government, in a recently-released study of the Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) methods for estimating community custody, or halfway house expenses. This recent report followed up on a February, 2012 study which revealed for the first time that the BOP has no way to account for their community custody costs accurately.

All halfway houses, where released prisoners are routinely sent after release from prison or a camp, are considered low custody facilities, with minimal supervision, and are all operated by contractors under the respective facility contracts, but despite that fact, the contracts provide for all individuals in them to pay 25% of their net income while they are in halfway house status, even if they are eventually placed in home confinement.

The inability of the BOP to properly estimate the true cost of these individuals prevents the public and Congress from knowing "the true costs of detention," according to the study, frustrating Congress' efforts to gauge the cost savings for encouraging home confinement instead of the costly halfway house alternative.

According to the study, "these limitations raise questions about the reliability of the BOP's evaluation for estimating future costs." Indeed. Hard to save money when you don't know what your costs are.

Additional links:,

Monday, August 6, 2012

ABA Report Seeks Stronger Oversight of Prisons

A report issued by the criminal justice section of the American Bar Association (ABA) to the ABA House of Delegates has called for independent, public entities to "regularly monitor and report publicly on the conditions in all prisons, jails, and other adult and juvenile correctional and detention facilities operating within their jurisdiction."

The ABA also issued an additional report, entitled,"Key Requirements for the Effective Monitoring of Correctional and Detention Facilities." The ABA suggested that the federal government require that jurisdictions receiving federal funding be monitored by at least one entity independent of the facility being monitored.

The ABA suggested that such oversight is necessary because "Prisoners still live in a netherworld with which few of us are familiar...the public is mostly oblivious about conditions in prisons, jails, and other correctional and detention facilities, even those within their own communities." The ABA compared this lack of transparency to the extensive oversight of public schools, and other government entities.

The report noted that public oversight should lead to rectification of problems, some of which could be overlooked by correctional officials. "External oversight...can be a cost-effective and proactive means to potentially avert lawsuits challenging the...conditions of confinement and treatment of prisoners."

Studies have shown that correctional oversight by an independent agency who reports to the public as a relative rarity, according to the ABA, citing a 2006 symposium at the University of Texas. Some monitoring does occur at the federal level by the Inspector General of the United States Department of Justice. However, this is contrasted with the independent monitoring of the forty-five European Union penal systems by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. (CPT).

ABA recommendations do not distinguish between facilities that house citizens or immigrants, or mental health facilities. they are seeking monitoring by "citizen's groups, accreditation legislature oversight, media access, and special mechanisms for the prosecution of crimes committed by correctional staff."

One of the key requirements would by that the monitoring entity not be dependent on the facility monitored for funding, space, staff support, or the meeting of other operational needs. They should be appointed for a fixed term by an elected official, be confirmed by a legislative body, and be subject to removal only for "just cause". they should also have "unhindered access" to the facility, the staff, prisoners, and records. All findings should be distributed to the media, the legislature, and the jurisdiction's top elected official.

Finally, the report suggested "adequate safeguards be put in place to protect individuals who transmit information to the monitoring entity from retaliation and threats of retaliation".

See: American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section. Report to the House of Delegates (2011)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Few Surprises in New Bureau of Prisons Population Report

The July 13, 2012 population figures for the Federal Bureau of Prisons continues the recent trends of disproportionate numbers of minorities and drug offenders being incarcerated.

Almost half of all federal prisoners, or 48.2%, are categorized as drug offenders, the vast majority of which are nonviolent. More violent crimes, including weapons violations, explosives, arson, homicide, kidnapping and sex offenses comprise only 29 per cent.

Interestingly, 12% of those incarcerated are confined for immigration crimes, generally illegal re-entry. Why are these people in federal prison they are subject to immediate deportation, after notice and a hearing?

Blacks still comprise almost 38% of those in federal detention, three times greater than their percentage of the U.S. population, although those of Hispanic descent are closing in fast, with 34.7% of all prisoners of that ethnicity.

Approximately 40,000 prisoners are currently in private contract facilities, which includes halfway house residents, who are technically subject to the BOP but not under their direct custody or control.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

On Mandatory Minimums

In a 645-page report prepared by the United States sentencing Commission for Congress, the Commission found that "mandatory minimum" sentencing penalties are excessively severe and unjust, especially in instances where there is no physical harm or threat of physical harm. "While there is a spectrum of views on the Commission regarding mandatory minimum penalties, the Commission unanimously believes that certain mandatory minimum penalties apply too broadly, are excessively severe, and are applied inconsistently across the country," said Commission chairwoman Judge Patti Saris. The study comprised a review of 73,239 cases completed in 2010.

The study also showed that black convicted offenders are the group least likely to earn relief from mandatory minimum sentencing. this should come as no surprise to those familiar with the racial breakdown in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. In the BOP, a disproportionate number of prisoners are black, relative to the population of the U.S.

Blacks also received the lowest rate of relief under the "safety valve" provisions, either because of their criminal history or the usage of a dangerous weapon in the commission of a drug crime. "Safety valve" relief is a method by which low-level, non-violent, first-time offenders can be sentenced below the statutory minimum sentence.

The figures for relief from mandatory minimum sentencing for accused offenders cooperating with the government was broken down along racial lines as follows: Black, 34.9%; White, 46.5%; Hispanic, 55.7%; and other races, 58.9%. The figures for relief in "safety valve" in the BOP were as follows: Black, 11.1%; white, 26.7%; Hispanic, 53.8%; and other races, 36.6%.

The Sentencing Commission's study also made other key findings: 27% of offenders were convicted of mandatory minimum offenses; 75% if those sentenced under mandatory minimum were convicted of a drug trafficking offense; 14.5% received no relief from mandatory minimum sentencing; and those receiving a mandatory minimum sentence received an average sentence of 139 months, compared to an average sentence of 63 months for those offenders who received relief from a mandatory minimum sentence.

The study is just one of the many recent studies and public comments which share one common theme: the federal sentencing guidelines are not only too harsh, but are inequitably applied by judges. With most objective studies showing drug use by the general population holding steady among all racial groups, the policy of harsh drug sentencing given black offenders is not supportable. With population levels in the BOP at or near record highs, and most institutions holding at lest 20% more prisoners than their rated capacities, a review of federal sentencing practices is long overdue. As long as federal prosecutors can hold the threat of excessively long sentences over the heads of the accused if they choose to exercise their constitutional right of a jury of their peers, the nation's prisons will continue to be overcrowded.

SEE: "The National Law Journal,", by Marcia Coyle, Oct. 31, 2011.

Friday, July 13, 2012

More Thoughts on Immigration

Publicity surrounding the "War on Terror" has resulted in increased concerns about border security, and spilled over into increased domestic pressure on undocumented aliens. This increased pressure and massive expenditure of federal dollars has taken place with little regard for its social or human rights consequences. Unlike criminally-charged U.S. citizens, who have an array of constitutional protections, guaranteed access to an attorney in all felony cases and many misdemeanor cases, the undocumented alien generally has much more limited sums and resources to defend themselves from harassment, arrest, and deportation. In many instances, the children of the undocumented, even if citizens by virtue of birth in the U.S., are at risk of losing one or both parents to deportation.

ICE's predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, (INS), came into being as part of the Justice Department in 1921, when the federal government realized that unfettered immigration was not in the country's best interest. INS was, at best, a poor stepchild of Justice, receiving minimal resources and manpower. It had massive responsibilities, at least on paper, but was not given the money to carry them out. Lost alien files and spotty enforcement were common. INS' best employees routinely sought transfers to other more respected areas of law enforcement.

All of this changed after 9/11, when the Homeland Security Act of 2002 opened the funding floodgates, and brought about the transfer of INS responsibilities into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in 2003.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Feds' Alien Detentions Good Business, but Human Rights Morass

Internal Immigration and customs Enforcement (ICE) internal records, obtained with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, reveal a "bleak picture of the inside of the nation's immigration detention system," according to the Houston Chronicle newspaper. The records indicate that in its haste to deport aliens without proper documentation, ICE is causing unnecessary human suffering.

It is also apparent that the U.S. government's policies on immigration have created what human rights organizations have termed as a "detention-industrial complex". The proliferation of private detention centers and prisons have created problems in enforcing federal immigration laws similar to the problems the increase in private Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state and county detention centers have caused in the criminal justice system, however, the abuses inflicted upon often defenseless immigration detainees has gone largely unnoticed.

The American penchant for increasing and maintaining high prison populations that has prevailed since the 1980s has spilled over into immigration enforcement. The U.S., despite numerous studies showing long prison terms do not reduce crime, still houses roughly 1/4 of the entire world's detainees. Between 1970 and 2005, the number of people imprisoned in the U.S. increases over 100%. Although extreme overcrowding in the BOP and a hefty budget that have increased public skepticism of the high prison population, the massive increases in ICE's budget has so far escaped criticism.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ronald Reagan popularized the image of America as the "Shining City on the Hill", the best of the best, the nation the rest of the world looked up to and aspired to be. In one area, however, it lags the rest of the world.

The U.S. incarcerates more than 25% of the entire word's prisoners, more than China and Russia, generally looked upon as authoritarian regimes, combined. Between 2.3 and 2.4 million Americans are currently behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults. More than one adult in every 37 is under some form of state or federal criminal supervision. This is five times more than Britain, nine times more than Germany, and twelve times more than Japan.

These figures translate into staggering economic and social costs for the rest of society. The average federal prisoner, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, costs more that $28,000 per year to incarcerate, and the per prisoner cost in California exceeds $50,000. More money is spent by the states to incarcerate than educate. The cost of breaking up families for long periods of time for non-violent crimes is harder to calculate. In many inner-city neighborhoods, a majority of the young men are in jail, mostly for drug-related crimes, while the drug trade still flourishes at about its same level.

A graduate of Northwestern University and DePaul Law, I won the largest civil judgment and settlement for the Illinois Consumer Protection Division as an assistant Attorney General. Years later, after a long career in private practice, I experienced first hand the sharp end of the Federal Criminal Justice system. As a result, I have rededicated myself to drawing attention to the interworkings of that system and to educating others that may be similarly situated.